Malaysia bans weekly newspaper

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 8 (AFP) - The Malaysian government has banned a weekly newspaper which specialises in reporting political issues, its editor-in-chief said Friday.

Jalil Ali said the Home Ministry had failed to renew the publishing permit for the Malay-language tabloid Eksklusif (Exclusive).

Local rights group Aliran said the ban "perhaps reflects the government's contempt of the very notion of press freedom."

Eksklusif has failed to appear since its previous licence expired April 15. Jalil told AFP that three appeals to the ministry since then for a renewal had failed.

He said Eksklusif would continue to appeal: "We really hope the government can be more liberal and relaxed on this."

Jalil said his paper had a circulation of 180,000 at its peak and had taken an independent stance. "We are not pro- any side."

He said the ministry gave no reason for refusing to renew the licence.

Home ministry officials were unavailable for comment.

The ministry, which licenses all publications as part of strict press curbs, has acted against other publications seen as pro-opposition in the past but denies any political motive.

The online newspaper Malaysiakini quoted Tengku Mahmood Tengku Ismail, head of the ministry's publications unit, as saying Eksklusif's permit was not renewed because of "imbalanced reporting" and non-compliance with various regulations.

Mahmood reportedly said the ministry would consider the paper's application if it sought a permit next year.

Malaysiakini said the youth magazine Al-Wasilah also had its permit cancelled last month.

It added: "It is believed that the ban on the monthly teen magazine is due to its political coverage which has an opposition slant."

Aliran said the ban on Eksklusif and other publications "has reinforced public perceptions that the government is determined to clamp down on publications that are seen to be critical, investigative and independent."

If Eksklusif was banned for unbalanced reporting, the rights group said, the same sanctions should also apply to those mainstream newspapers which were guilty of one-sided reporting.

The ministry earlier this year closed down another publication, Detik, seen as critical of the government.

In March it severely curbed circulation of the newspaper of the opposition Parti Islam SeMalaysia. Harakah's publishing permit was renewed for only two issues a month instead of two a week as previously.

Harakah's editor Zulkifli Sulong is currently on trial for sedition, punishable by up to three years' jail, for an article on the trial of ex-deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim.

The US-based Committee to Protect Journalists in May named Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad as one of the world's top ten enemies of the press.